Facebook lets companies target job ads by age. Is that really so bad?

Young professional

The New York Times and ProPublica released a story a couple weeks ago detailing the extent to which employers can target their recruiting ads on Facebook.

Here’s the lede:

A few weeks ago, Verizon placed an ad on Facebook to recruit applicants for a unit focused on financial planning and analysis. The ad showed a smiling, millennial-aged woman seated at a computer and promised that new hires could look forward to a rewarding career in which they would be “more than just a number.”

Some relevant numbers were not immediately evident. The promotion was set to run on the Facebook feeds of users 25 to 36 years old who lived in the nation’s capital, or had recently visited there, and had demonstrated an interest in finance. For a vast majority of the hundreds of millions of people who check Facebook every day, the ad did not exist.

Setting aside the issue of legality (age-based ad targeting may violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the article notes), I’m struggling to see how this is a necessarily bad thing. After all, if a recruiter is biased against older workers, they’re not likely to hire them once they infer their age based on their resume. Many hiring managers have a range of expected ages for a given position based on the required experience, the age range of others on the team, etc. I’m not arguing that this is a good thing. Everyone deserves a fair shake, no matter how old you are. But blaming Facebook for this existing human bias doesn’t advance the cause either.

Further, the issue at hand is only that the companies are advertising open positions to people in certain age ranges. Many companies require all open positions to be posted on the careers page; and the majority of such positions also appear on job boards such as indeed.com. It’s not as though the jobs are being hidden from people; rather, certain people aren’t being actively targeted.

Of course this is easy for a 30-something well-versed in technology to say. But the outrage over this issue robs job seekers of their agency and gives Facebook too much credit. If your idea of a job search is to browse your Facebook Feed for ads from companies who want to recruit you, I don’t think you’re going to have much luck. It’s far more effective to seek out companies and career opportunities that match your objectives than waiting for them to come for you via Facebook ads.

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